Privileged white men can go to perdition any way they like as long as they don’t take my great-grandchildren with them. Tirtha
We need a thousand words for peace, so that we can distinguish the Pentagon’s peace from the Buddha’s; language that separates the power that corrupts from the kind of power that sets people free. How do we make and sustain the kind of love that is greater than terror, than war? What name shall we give to a way of governance that includes all of life in its processes? What might we call such a culture? A sodality, an ecumene, a comity, a commensal, a conviviality? How do we midwife a society that truly honours ‘all the children’; that celebrates work as high and serious play; that might explore the twelve kinds of marriage contracts said to have been practised by the ancient Celts, or concepts like author Alex Comfort’s tender sammutr, a form of address used between women who have loved the same man? (1)
Imagine a rich and nuanced language of sexuality and making love untainted by abuse, pornography and shame. Philoxenia
I particularly question the language used to promote the recent visit of a literary agent to Tasmania. Writers were invited to come and hear “what publishers and agents are looking for.” Is the boot ever on the other foot? Are writers funded to lecture publishers and agents? Or must we be forever supplicants, kowtowing to market forces many of us find fundamentalist and life-destroying?
I don’t know, yet, how not to collude. Platypus for Sale
If I put in three more energy efficient light-bulbs can I keep the cat? Wallaby’s Child
If it’s the work of our generation to restore a planet, what’s my task? How do I live my life as authentically and ethically as you live yours? Your journey is solar, extroverted and public. My moiety, it seems, is the underworld. I live in the dark, mapping its countries, oceans and galaxies.
As a writer of fiction, I spend hours every day creating out of nothing a landscape that doesn’t exist except in my imagination, and yet is dancing, alive and more real than real; going ‘down the rabbit-hole’ is as pleasurable as going to meet a lover.
I live with ‘mental illness.’ There is no empirical measurement, no evidence of psychic pain. So in order to survive, I first had to learn to validate then to trust something whose only arbiter is myself.
Once or twice a year I spend eight days in silence at a Catholic retreat house. By the time it finishes, I’m dwelling in charged, luciloquent, violet light. Do we spend our lives paddling on the seashore when there’s an ocean, a glory only a breath away? Letter to Icarus
I prefer my garden to the internet any day; virtual reality seems to me a pallid reflection of the glory outside the back door. There is as much genius in a thriving vegetable patch as in Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci and Stephen Hawking rolled into one.
“How do you do it?” I demand every spring of the roses as day after day they starburst into silky, luscious bloom. A cubic centimetre of compost contains up to a million different species of bacteria. The skill of seeds takes my breath away. How do spiders weave wind-light nets from thread strong as steel drawn from their abdomens?
Writing is as close as I dare come to the miracle. Down the Rabbit-hole
The dark angel has had many names over the years. I’ve called her Moloch, the god to whom parents sacrificed their children; Tarpeia, who betrayed Rome to the Sabines and was thrown to her death from the Tarpeian Rock; the Minotaur – whose name is Asterion, the star. Once, on the principle of mirroring Medusa’s petrifying face back to her, I spent days drawing a Gorgon’s head. Along each snake, each hair, I listed all the horrors in the world.
A is for abattoir, Auschwitz, asphyxiation.
B is for Burma Railway, bubonic plague, beheading
C is for Caligula, castration, crucifixion… Chrysalis
Religion – God – is in my book the opposite of panacea or opiate. It thrives on plangent questions, celebrates the mystery and the impossible, and is willing at all times to be wrong. It’s supple, evolving, radically amazing. It’s inclusive; paradoxes are a central tenet, along with scandals, heretics and stumbling blocks. It’s bigger on the inside than the outside. It has no beliefs, but countless, exhilarating working metaphors.
It honours the astonishing creativity of a universe in which humans are midway in size between the largest visible object, a galaxy, and the smallest sub-atomic particle. Ninety-nine per cent of everything is infra or supra human perception. We are interdependent with Huon pines and dung-beetles, rhinoceroses and diatoms, all of us born from star-dust. Geis
Sooner or later the Church, like the Berlin Wall, must fall down. No institution so locked into caste, sexism, paranoia and oligarchy can or may survive. The Church preaches crucifixion and resurrection, death and rebirth as central tenets of everything except itself. It endlessly recycles past glories and dead prophets while gagging current dissent. Its politics of suppression align it with bullies and juntas everywhere. It’s worse than juntas because it doesn’t just betray humankind, it betrays Christ.
Revelation in the past is easy. What’s not easy is engagement in the ferment, muddle and anguish of today. If the Church is unable to embody now the self-same values it celebrates in its liturgy – prophecy, metanoia, liberation, radical challenge to current orthodoxy – then what’s the point? Has Christ’s Church become an instrument for massaging the status quo?
I can see only one possible response. I cannot leave the Church. I cannot stay and by my silence, collude. Therefore I must be part of the costly, stubborn, risky, radical work of change. And it must be loving change. The minute we lose the loving, we’ve failed. I come back, as so often, to Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha – truth-force, perfect autonomy, perfect compassion. ‘I will not violate you, I will not be violated by you.’ Pharaoh’s Daughters
I grew up in an a-religious household, envying and being envied by children who had to go to Sunday school. In my late teens I sojourned with the Baptists, who gifted me with dear community, much indigestible dogma and my first experience of prayer – inner luminosity, haecceity, silence thick as cream. Marihuana, when I encountered it briefly in my early twenties, simply affirmed a perception I already had: that a profound and lustrous reality was only a breath away. And that prayer, poetry, music, making love, and the sense of being melded with the austere, wild landscape of the far south of New Zealand where I’d spent much of my childhood, were all the one weave. The Long Way Home
The speck of the universe that is me (a woman is midway in size between a galaxy and the smallest sub-atomic particle) is fecund, vast, mysterious and there’s no owner’s manual. How did a microscopic conjunction of ovum and sperm in the south of England in the summer of 1947 contain all this? If it didn’t, where did it come from? What’s the origin of the torrents of gunge that I’ve been processing now for a quarter of a century, and where in the mind/body continuum are they stored? What’s a cell of soul called? How do the inner and the outer, the metaphysical and the physical interpenetrate, osmose and cross-pollinate in this speck, in this complexity infinitely enfolding and unfolding infinite complexity?
Who are we? Convivencia
Marigold saw in the eye of her mind the Almacantar, flying quick and quiet as a dragonfly, a glimmer sung by the sun on the morning sea. The same woman who had given birth to her had conceived this marvellous ship.
She sat staring at nothing for a while. Then she lay down on the floor on a bit of rug beside the loom with the commonplace book Ceren had given her, and drew. She filled pages with a kaleidoscope of images, fragments of something she was always on the edge of grasping. It was exhilarating, cack-handed, exhausting, impossible, the best she could do. She lay with her head on her arms, too tired to move.
“Look.” Dhohri called them over to the window. They watched a wave that seemed to mount till it was halfway up the sulphurous louring sky. It imploded on the rocks and the lighthouse. The Head emerged, streaming. The gashed sea gathered itself, reared and hurled again.
“It’s hypnotic,” Wind said. “I can’t bear to watch it. I can’t bear not to watch it.” She cast around for her shawl, wrapped it tightly about herself and sat down with her back to the sea. “Marigold, listen, there’s one more thing I need to say, then I’ll be quiet.” She paused, winnowing thoughts. Marigold felt compelled by her eyes, golden and truthful and very clear in her dark face. “I’m just Wind Yoe Tashqur, an ageing woman with bones that ache in this shit-freezing weather and a passion for old roses. But I’m also a woman with authority vested in her by this city, by this Earth, by my children’s children’s children. I’m accountable to them. I was an economist before I was ever a footprinter. Do you know the economist’s oath? To be responsible for the equilibrium and well-being of the whole commonwealth of Earth, for nine generations of humans, thirty-three of eagles, three thousand of butterflies or one of Huon pines, whichever is longer. So in one story I’m adamant because I must be. And in the other, all I want to do is comfort you.”
Attar sat down and settled Rain on her lap. “Yoss told us about your son. About Joha. I’m so sorry. You’ve lived more letting go than I can dream of.”
Ceren set the milk-jug, much mended and blue as cornflowers, on the table.
She said, “One of the things I began to understand on Kest was that relinquishing doesn’t mean stopping loving. If I don’t love more, I haven’t finished letting go.”
Ceren was straightening hanks of yarn that lay on the window seat.
She said, “The only way I know is to learn by doing. Getting it wrong a thousand times. The work of creating sometimes feels like kneading stone with your bare hands. One day, perhaps, suddenly, there’s diamond. Or maybe it’s just that you see the stone for the first time. Weaving exhausts me, yet it also delights me as nothing else does. To not do it is to deny why I was born. It may be like that for you, or it may be something else altogether that wrings the soul out of you.”
Marigold dived for the tiller. Lightning split the sky and thunder made her duck. Hail spat. Speedwell, over-canvassed, groaned and bucketed across the pitted sea. Night was falling. Lightning straddled the universe, the sky roared. There was another crack and the vessel staggered as her foresail ripped from peak to foot. Marigold, drenched to the skin and clinging to the tiller, fought to steady her. The wind veered wildly and the waves were pummelling her from all sides. It was pitch dark and she was sailing blind, yelling with defiant joy. For the tide had turned and the hounds of hell were on the run at last, fleeing before her.
“Do what you like,” she howled into the wind. “You can’t touch me, I don’t care any more, I don’t care.” The storm whirled her words away, lightning speared the sea and thunder exploded behind her. Speedwell, her torn sail threshing, plunged on through the darkness, burying her nose in the gullies and canting up the wild slopes.
Rain teemed down. The wind blew through Marigold’s bones. Blind with spume, she gripped the tiller as her only certainty. Then in a frozen heartbeat she smelt earth, heard surf, saw the light.
“No,” she screamed. “No. It can’t be. There’s nothing there.”
There was a rending crash. Speedwell wrenched to a juddering standstill and Marigold was flung hard forwards into blackness.
Marigold, listen. From where I’m looking, from where humans look, life doesn’t make sense. There is no possible justification I can see for the anguish of it all. If there’s a meaning, it’s hidden from us. And if there is a meaning it had better be good. By Xereth, it had better be meta-good. The risk I’m taking for now is that somewhere I can’t touch, it does make sense. I’m betting on a purpose and, dare I hope, a love beyond my imagining. I’m betting that there is a God who is somehow worth the terrible, intolerable risk of being alive. And it’s in my work of weaving that I glimpse that; a reflection of a reflection of a pattern more awesome and more lovely than my wildest dreams. Yax Hollerion is working with a mathematician in Cloud and a dancer in Xhool. And what seems to be happening is that the same impossible images are occurring separately and simultaneously a planet apart. Via equations. Via figures in the dance. Via Yax Hollerion’s miraculous hands. Could it be we’re all actually sensing, shaping, giving birth to something? A kind of vast cosmic elephant and we the groping blind? I don’t know. I hope, but I don’t know.
It was one of those moments when time stops. If I close my eyes, it’s still all there in front of me. Firelight. A rain-drenched gale batting at the windows. The solid comfort of Ambrosius curled up tight as a snail-shell on my lap. Lucy arranged against curtains the exact colour of her eyes. Jonquils in a blue jug. I felt as if I were being given a chance of something infinitely special that would change all I had and was and did forever, an inbreaking future that was simultaneously beyond all my imaginings and what I was born to do. Ceren would name this as a kairotic moment: the shuttle, loaded with new thread, is thrown into the warp. All I had to do was say yes, which felt as simple and crazy as birth, as stepping off a cliff. I took the deepest breath I’ve ever taken, closed my eyes, and leapt. And even as I said yes, and felt the reverberations of that choice echoing through my being, I saw with absolute clarity that I’d just set the keystone in an archway I hadn’t even known existed an hour before.
Halvor had been one of the first cities twenty-five years ago to grasp the nettle of over-population and make contraceptive implants compulsory for all men from puberty onwards. Exemptions were rigorously defined and arbitrated: homosexual men in committed relationship, avowed celibates, and any couple who had made either a civil or a sacramental commitment to the work of bringing up a child, who had completed a four year parenting course and were supported by the requisite number of co-parents.
Gold was sitting on a stone at the highest point of the cliff. She was a thin, restless woman dressed invariably in black. Her long braid of hair always looked too heavy for her neck. She glanced at Marigold, neither rebuffing nor welcoming, and went on with her sewing. Marigold walked deliberately to the edge and looked down into the Gullet. The sinuous, turgid funnel sucked and roared, swaying a little on its stalk. Marigold was compelled, she was terrified. After a long moment she shook herself free, dropped onto all fours and backed away from the brink. She sat down and waited for her heart to stop its hammering.
Gold said in her hoarse voice, “This place was once the home of the Yundubindugarry people. Their seers said the whirlpool was a gateway, a valve between the worlds. If you looked into its eye, you would see God.”
“If that’s what God costs, I’m not interested.” Marigold had got over her fright and was cross.
Gold didn’t say anything. Her hands, so often twitching and nervous, were setting tiny stitches in finest mauve thread along the brim of a pale yellow iris. Butterfly’s Children
My darling child – last week, in the Khumrassani hills, I walked fire. It no longer seems to matter where I’m going, into the darkness, into the light, because the joy of that moment when I stepped unharmed across white-hot embers is so astonishing, so profound it encompasses, it is all possibilities. There is no outside. It’s all seamless, all one. For today at least, I surrender wholly to moving on. It’s time, nearly, to shed a body; beloved skin, heart, hands, bones. This morning I grieved for such a small thing; my hair, scanty, spronky, brittle stuff that it is. Once it fell in shining blue-black hanks to my knees. I wept bitterly. Then grace happened and I could see and touch both poles, the young woman contained in the old and the old in the young.
Two nights ago I slept at my grave, practising the threshold, learning to move between the worlds. I imagine taking my final breath, feeling my heart beat for the last time. Yesterday one of the midwives gave me a death-berry to hold. It was translucent purple with black seeds, no bigger than a grape. I hope, stubborn to the end, that I can die under my own steam. If not, mercy will be freely given.
It’s individuals – Rosa Parks, Christobel Pankhurst, Mahatma Gandhi – who drive cultural change. What if the converted actually walked our talk, not at some amorphous future date but now, gave up cars and planes, and radically slashed food, shopping, energy and internet miles? Would infrastructure and policy not inevitably follow? Why are we procrastinating till there’s no food chain left before we relinquish our place at the top of it? If addiction is paralysis in the face of self-destructive behaviour, what rockbottom do we still have to hit before we go cold turkey on fossil fuels? Why are we behaving like sugar-guzzling diabetics? We live inside our own cultural blindspot, demanding to have our planet and eat it. If psychosis is the denial of reality then we’re persistently psychotic. We self-justify, we whine like the carbon-bingeing psychiatrist I heard say recently, “But I’m just doing my job. Flying and driving aren’t unethical yet.”
Depression is a paltry word, covering everything from healthy sadness to soul-crushing despair. There is no way of empirically measuring it. How do you validate a wholly subjective experience, often in the face of sceptical health professionals, even as you disintegrate? How much is pathology, how much healing crisis? In hindsight I can look back on serial breakdowns and see in each one a turning point, usually mediated in a dream, when I’ve challenged some essential horror, a Medusa within myself. During a protracted convalescence I reread a story I’d written, and was staggered to discover I’d scripted the whole episode months before it happened, down to the accompanying triple osteopathic fracture. Breakdown, then, is purposive, to be trusted? Can hell ultimately be hallowed?
By what massive failure of personal and cultural imagination do we justify eking out our own lives, staving off mortality at any cost, while continuing to live and consume in such a way that we’re condemning a planet to death?
We have so privatised love that we, the privileged, buy life-prolonging drugs while the poor die young for lack of basic human rights like clean water, sanitation and contraception. Wealthy couples buy fertility as third world babies die in droves. Half of us over-eat and the other half starve. We mete out, we obscenely profit from maiming and murder in the form of the arms trade, and accept the sacrificial death of thousands every year in the cult of Moloch the motor-car.